Hernia FAQs

What exactly is a hernia?
The abdomen is held together by a layer of tough connective tissue called fascia.  A hernia is a gap, or weak spot, in this fascia that allows internal contents of the abdomen to sneak through.

What are the symptoms?
Possible symptoms include: a slight bulge or lump in the affected area; a lump on either side of the pubic bone where the groin and the thigh meet; burning, gurgling or aching sensations where the bulge is; a heavy feeling in the abdomen; pain or discomfort (usually in the lower abdomen), especially when bending over, coughing or lifting.

Sometimes the person doesn’t feel any symptoms at all, and the hernia is discovered during a routine physical or a medical exam for an unrelated problem.

How did I get my hernia?
Some hernias are present at birth and lie dormant for years, suddenly “popping out” during straining or pushing. Other hernias develop slowly from accumulated strain (such as repeated heavy lifting). For most patients, it’s a combination of the two. The abdominal wall has several natural weak spots, such as the belly button and the groin (in men), and hernias sometimes happen there. If you have ever had abdominal surgery, your old incision is a place where a hernia could form.

Are hernias dangerous?
They can be. A hernia can become an emergency medical situation if abdominal contents, especially intestine, herniate through the gap and become stuck. If that happens, the stuck contents can cut off their own blood flow. Typically, if a hernia is painful, the pain rarely resolves without surgery and will probably get worse. For patients with a hernia that does not bother them, we must make the decision whether or not to perform surgery. We do know that a significant percentage of patients who have no pain now will develop symptoms later on and require repair.

How are hernias fixed?
When it comes to hernias, one size certainly does not fit all. Hernias in the groin often require different surgeries from those on the abdominal wall. Depending on the size, location and configuration, your surgeon may use various prosthetic meshes or closure techniques. The most appropriate repair for your hernia may be a traditional open surgery, laparoscopic or even robotic. The best way for your surgeon to advise you is to have a detailed conversation about your medical and surgical history and perform a complete physical exam.

What type of repair is best?
Research has shown that what matters most is your surgeon’s experience with a particular technique. The best open surgeon is better than a mediocre laparoscopic surgeon, and vice versa. Traditional and laparoscopic surgeries produce similar and excellent outcomes when performed by a well-trained surgeon.

I’ve seen ads on TV about surgical mesh. Is it bad to use?
In short, no. Hernia mesh is very different than the mesh discussed in some advertisements. Although non-mesh options exists, in most cases, using a prosthetic mesh for your repair is the standard of care. Using a patch made of surgical mesh lowers your chance of the hernia coming back after surgery, which has been proven consistently by several research studies nationwide.  Most meshes are permanent and will become incorporated in your abdominal wall, adding permanent strength.

Can a “hernia belt” sold in medical supply stores help?
This is called a hernia truss. It provides pressure on the hernia so it does not pop out. Although this can prevent an emergency, it does not fix the underlying problem and surgery is still recommended.

What is a “sports hernia"?
A sports hernia is actually a ligament/tendon injury in the groin. It may mimic the discomfort of a true hernia. Depending on severity and type, these hernias can be treated via surgery, anti-inflammatory medication/injections or physical therapy. 

See also: FAQs about Mesh in Hernia Repairs + FAQs about the Shouldice Hernia Repair + More to come!